Digital skills policies
With 4 of 10 European citizens lacking even basic digital skills and most employers experiencing difficulties when hiring digital specialists, the European Commission supports several activities aimed at improving and stepping up digital skills training.
At the heart of this ambition is the Digital Education Action Plan for 2021-2027, which aims to:
learn from the COVID-19 crisis, which expanded use of technology at an unprecedented scale in education and training;
make education and training systems fit for the digital age.
Apart from initiatives to foster digital learning environments, such as investment in infrastructure, connectivity and digital equipment, the Plan also targets teachers and trainers so they can further develop their digital skills. In addition, the plan targets transforming curricula to improve digital literacy, encourage participation in ICT education and spread knowledge and understanding of data-intensive technologies, such as artificial intelligence. The Plan also highlights the need to expand advanced digital skills provision to produce more specialists and to promote a more equal gender balance, so that girls and young women are equally represented in digital studies and careers.
Box 2: Cedefop’s contribution to research and policy recommendations on digitalisation
Cedefop is monitoring the adoption of artificial intelligence and new digital technologies by EU Member States, as these are becoming part of the EU’s new reality in a post-coronavirus world.
Cedefop’s project “Digitalisation, AI and the future of work” analyses the impact and drivers of digitalisation and automation, spurred by advancements in robotics, artificial intelligence (AI) and other digital technologies, on employment and changing skill needs and skill mismatch.
A Cedefop research paper focuses on identifying determinants of 'automatability risk', namely the propensity of EU employees being in jobs with high risk of substitutability by machines, robots or other algorithmic processes, and uncovers its impact on labour market outcomes.
Cedefop’s CrowdLearn survey is the first study to examine how EU workers in the online platform economy develop their skills, and how these platforms match skills supply with demand, with a view to drawing lessons for European skills and education policy.
Cedefop analyses how digital competences (as one of key competences) are integrated and promoted in vocational education and training (VET).
Member State level
Cedefop research on key competences in initial vocational education and training (IVET) demonstrates that support of digital skills receives most attention from policy-makers (). In EU Member States, 67% of policies promoting digital competence have the explicit objective to embed them into IVET.
Digital competences are now included in almost all qualification types in IVET. Between 2011 and 2018, all but one country adopted policies to promote further development of digital competences in IVET. In total, there were 64 such policies, ranging from policies focused on IVET and digital competence to policies that cover the entire education sector and several key competences. Most (39 of 64) policies promoting digital competence in IVET were strategies, having an agenda-setting purpose and presenting a longer-term vision rather than short-term, practical implementation plans.
Where policies promote digital competence in IVET, this is usually done in the context of broader societal objectives. One-third of such policies have employability as the main societal objective; one in five targets social inclusion and lifelong learning. References to EU initiatives set the scene or have a direct effect on policy content at national level. Almost half (44%) of the 64 policies refer to EU or international initiatives, such as the European digital agenda, the DigComp framework, the European computer driving licence, or the Council recommendation on key competences for lifelong learning.
What is the focus on these policies? 3 in 5 digital competence policies targets programme delivery. Close to half of them aims to strengthen teacher training (Figure 15).
Figure 15: Digital competences in initial vocational education and training (IVET) policies
Source: Cedefop (2020). Key competences in initial vocational education and training: digital, multilingual and literacy. Available at: https://www.cedefop.europa.eu/en/publications-and-resources/publications/5578
In IVET, digital competences are mostly seen as pure key (or transversal) competence (47% of programmes), which means that digital literacy is considered to be the key focus. In 27% of programmes, digital competences are seen as occupation-specific. This is often the case in manufacturing, where learning focuses on building in-depth knowledge of specific tools and application areas (such as CAD, robotics etc.).
Strengthening digital competences is a priority area for both EU Member states and candidate countries (). While there are many activities focusing IVET learners, much work remains to be done in CVET, to close the digital skill gap of adults. In addition, training teachers and trainers in digital competences so that they can effectively support learners is an underdeveloped area in many national skill systems (). Technological innovation and digitalisation have the potential to transform learning fundamentally – not only by equipping the population with digital skills to work and be active citizens, but also by improving access to learning, as the Covid-19 pandemic has shown us. VET and skills policies should target people with low or no digital skills and encourage and support them in acquiring them so that they develop a basis for learning and working in the digital age.
() European Commission JRC (2017) DigComp 2.1: The Digital Competence Framework for Citizens with eight proficiency levels and examples of use, available at: https://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/bitstream/JRC106281/web-digcomp2.1pdf_(online).pdf
 Based on the European Union Survey on ICT usage in households and by individuals. The survey looks at abilities of individuals to use digital technologies to find information, communicate, solve problems and use software and determines how many activities they can do in each of these four domains. If it is just one in each domain, the level of digital skills is considered basic; if it is more, the individual possesses above basic digital skills.
 Eurostat: People who created presentations or documents integrating text, pictures, tables or charts. Available at: https://bit.ly/2JIqg2m
 Cedefop’s Skills Panorama provides an overview of importance of various tasks within occupations, based on Eurofound’s work and methodology in the European Jobs Monitor.
 “COVID-19 Accelerated E-Commerce Growth ‘4 To 6 Years’”. Available at Forbes.com and “COVID-19 pandemic accelerated shift to e-commerce by 5 years, new report says”. Available at Techcrunch.com.
 Digital Economy and Society Index Report 2020 - Human Capital. Available at: Shaping Europe’s digital future.
 Cedefop (2020). Key competences in initial vocational education and training: digital, multilingual and literacy. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. Cedefop research paper; No 78. http://data.europa.eu/doi/10.2801/671030
 Cedefop and ETF (2020). The importance of being vocational. Challenges and opportunities for VET in the next decade. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. Cedefop and ETF discussion paper. Available at: https://www.cedefop.europa.eu/files/4186_en.pdf